What makes a great journal?

David Eisenberg reflects on Richard Lorch’s End of an Era editorial.

Reading Richard Lorch’s reflection, “End of an Era,” brought into focus crucial aspects of the concerns so strongly expressed and actions taken by his colleagues and the extraordinary community of people who have come to know and work with him, and to rely on his knowledge, integrity, judgment and more. His editorial leadership and excellence at BRI is clear to everyone, including, most disturbingly, those who chose to terminate his contract.

As someone who has spent over two decades engaged in developing awareness within the building regulatory community of the spectrum of too-often ignored human and environmental impacts of the built environment, I developed a genuine appreciation for Richard’s approach and stewardship of the journal. The fact that my work was largely outside the realms of academic and formal research did not discourage Richard from reaching out to me to invite me to both contribute to the Journal and to engage in meaningful conversations about my views on critical topics. While maintaining high standards for rigorous integrity and accuracy in the field of formal research, Richard grasps the importance of seeing issues whole and in context, including the limits of specialisation and the tendency to create silos of knowledge with a level of confidence that belies their lack of interdisciplinary awareness and associated complexity.

Richard’s forward-looking orientation—not merely seeking gaps in knowledge and understanding about the current aspects of building-related impacts, outcomes, and performance, but also the potential importance of emergent issues—has enabled him to curate special issues of the journal on areas in need of serious reconsideration or new thinking. A prime example is the issue “Building governance and climate change: regulation and related policies,” for which Richard reached out to me to provide an overview based on my two decades of advocacy work in this arena of public policy. When the paper I submitted for peer review was critiqued by the reviewers for it’s lack of research citations and formal technical research – a point I had made to Richard when he invited a contribution – he asked me to turn it into a much shorter commentary. Grateful for the opportunity to share my experience and observations of the building regulatory sector and it’s myopic tendencies and problematic patterns, I also appreciated his editing and suggestions in helping me make my points more concise and clear.

What stands out for me now, is what will be lost in this change of leadership for BRI. It is Richard’s unique combination not only of his breadth and depth of knowledge and connections in this realm, or his unsurpassed skills as editor-in-chief, but his open, creative, intuitive commitment to bringing together the best minds on relevant topics, and bringing forward important issues, while continually striving to have the journal serve communities of practice by tying research to useful and critical outcomes in the real world of building and development. It is possible that there is someone else who stands at this intersection and can offer what Richard has, but that possibility seems hopelessly slim. More importantly, as reflected so well in the special issue I mentioned above, we have no time to lose to address existential risks connected to climate change and the built environment. Undercutting the potential contributions of BRI to that issue alone at this time is enormously consequential and, in my view, unconscionable.

David Eisenberg headshot


David Eisenberg is Executive Director at the Development Center for Appropriate Technology. Tucson, Arizona, USA


Reflecting on changes at BRI

Elizabeth Shove responds to Richard Lorch’s End of an Era editorial.

A journal with the title ‘Building Research and Information’ is not the most obvious home for adventurous and creative – not to mention policy relevant debate.  Nor is it clearly inviting to the social sciences.  But what makes a journal worthwhile, and what keeps it alive and interesting is not the title: what matters, in this case, is the approach and commitment of the editor.  Over the years, BRI has become a really influential ‘site’ through which to extend, expand and refresh a range of fundamental and also contested topics not only about the technicalities of building, but about buildings in use and in action.  For example, questions about what buildings are ‘for’; what services they offer, and what meanings of comfort they unwittingly reproduce have all been tackled.  In supporting articles and special issues that develop well researched, but also unconventional lines of enquiry Richard, as editor, helped establish fresh dialogue and exchange across and between fields and disciplines that do not usually meet.  It is, of course, impossible to know what the lasting effect of this might be – which ideas and agendas have been shifted, which topics attract just that bit more attention, and which are reformulated in new and interesting ways as a result?.  But it is very clear that this has been a generative process that depended on the extensive network, and the good will that Richard himself established and it is also clear that this will not be replaced any time soon. 



Elizabeth Shove is Professor of Sociology at Lancaster University and PI of the DEMAND research centre (Dynamics of energy, mobility and demand).

The challenges of academic publishing

Professor Sergio Altomonte responds to Richard Lorch’s End of an era editorial in Building Research & Information:

Academic publishing lives in challenging times. Besides the old cliché of “publish or perish”, coined by Coolidge almost a century ago [1], several pressures today are potentially threatening the quality and rigour of the new science being disseminated. Without attempting to present a comprehensive list of the burdens impending upon the processes and products of academic publishing, below is an account of factors that might be familiar to those working in research settings. These are presented following the framework of the “Five Ws (and one H)”:

Why? The “golden rule” should be that one should publish when there is something relevant to say. Yet, academic competition, performance reviews and career progressions linked to number of outputs, citation indices, and impact factors might severely impinge on this rule.

Who? The list of authors of a paper should theoretically correspond to those that have actively contributed to its completion. However, common ill-practice at Universities suggests that this might not always be the case.

What? The quality of a study should be based first and foremost on sound literature review, rigorous and detailed methodology, replicable results, and conclusions that are relevant to the discipline. This should also imply access to collected data to support meta-analysis founded on estimation of comparable standardised indicators (e.g., effects size of influences detected). Nevertheless, conclusions are frequently based uniquely on preliminary inferences (e.g., mean differences and null hypothesis significance testing), hindering results’ verification and the utilisation of acquired knowledge to inform further studies (e.g., with the application of Bayesian analysis methods).

When? The relevance of publication “speed” clearly differs based on discipline. But, certainly, the time required by processes such as ethical approval, data gathering and examination and, above all, rigorous peer-reviewing and editorial procedures represent a challenge that researchers should always consider for the timely dissemination of their new findings.

Where? In addition to the mentioned criteria linked to impact factors and citation indices, before selecting a journal where a study is submitted, a question should be raised whether its publishers are effectively serving the needs of their audience. More and more, financial aspects seem to prevail over scientific integrity, with a “plethora” of new journals appearing, almost daily, under the pledge of short-term publishing and straightforward reviewing. Although this might deceptively meet some of the challenges listed above, it is only on editorial independence, consistency and continuity towards the aims and scope of a publication, and, most importantly, a serious review process that constructively challenges the study contents, that the advancement of knowledge can be effectively guaranteed.

How? Increasingly, Universities and founding bodies require for new science to be widely and freely disseminated, under the banner of “gold” open access. Although this principle is commendable, this demand also often implies exorbitant fees imposed by publishers that are very frequently inaccessible by young scholars, or those performing fundamental research in less affluent academic contexts. Together with the others, this is a challenge that the entire research community should urgently consider to avoid “perishing” under the pressures of publication.

[1] Coolidge HJ, Lord RH. 1932. Archibald Cary Coolidge: Life and Letters. Boston: Houghton Mifflin company, p. 308.



Sergio Altomonte, Professor of Architectural Physics, Architecture et Climat, Université catholique de Louvain, Louvain-la-neuve (Belgium)

Impact, quality and editing – where next for academic publishing?

Fionn Stevenson comments on Richard Lorch’s End of an Era article. 

The sudden and unexpected loss of the editor for this leading academic journal was a body blow. Literally. I felt physically sick. Should I have been surprised? Probably not, given the endless marketization of academia, which now leaves little time for reflection, given the need to ‘consume’ more and more published research.

Building Research and Information has been unique as an interdisciplinary international journal for the built environment that reached out to policy makers, practitioners and academics alike. Over the decades it has established an enviable reputation for attracting top authors and publishing cutting edge Special Issues which have often set the agenda in critical areas of research and knowledge exchange.

The editor in question belonged to the old school – taking precious time to craft a paper with the authors and the reviewers, delicately pondering on wider issues during the process, and surfacing deeper insights through careful questioning. He was in pursuit of research excellence, rather than turning around as many papers as possible in as short a time as possible. He was certainly not anonymous – he was a friend at hand, when things went wrong, and celebrated success when things worked. He also nurtured and developed a world class Editorial Board.  It takes years to develop relationships like these. It was ‘slow’, and more than ever, under capitalism’s increasingly rapid consumption of irreplaceable resources and values, we need to resist with ‘slowness’.

The cold new wind blowing through academic publishing is stripping away these priceless values in the relentless pursuit of profit, which induces a rapid turnover and a flurry of new editorships. This is in order to ‘spread’ the expertise quickly, and generally speed up and expand research journals for the sake of creating quick ‘impact’ ratings to justify their  existence. I am not against rotating editorships in principle, but this should not be done lightly, particularly when a journal is flourishing, and it should certainly be done with due care.

So, where next?

I am excited by new ideas of publishing which challenge the growing hegemony of academic publishing corporations. There are excellent examples of collaborative and open publishing in academia which by-pass these commercial publishers, including the annual ‘Field’ journal within my own School of Architecture in Sheffield. Within academic, research and professional institutions, we can take a lead on this and encourage the development of ‘slow’ journals and other media which focus on quality academic and practice-based research publications. The dividends from this type of work are enormous. It takes time and money. When this resource demand is shared between many as a collaborative concern, with a shared vision and shared research values, then perhaps a new process can be born. One which celebrates ‘slow’ editing – and the resulting quality of publication.



Fionn Stevenson, Professor of Sustainable Design at the University of Sheffield

“Publisher’s fiat”: Letter published in Times Higher Education

The following is a letter first published in Times Higher Education (THE) (19 April 2018, p. 33). This was drafted by the editor in chief and the departing editorial board of BRI, in follow up to THE’s report on the termination of Richard Lorch’s contract. The letter criticises Taylor & Francis for poor governance: disregard of both BRI’s editorial board as custodians of journal integrity and the voices of BRI’s wider community. This has been reproduced with permission, and the original publication is available here


The neTHE logo[1]ws article “Journal board resigns in protest at editor’s dismissal” (2 March) highlighted the mass resignations at Building Research & Information because of the publisher’s arbitrary dismissal of its editor-in-chief, Richard Lorch.

Alongside the shock this has caused within the community that BRI serves, it also highlights important wider issues about the governance of relations between publishers, journal editors and editorial boards; how best to create diversity within the support systems that a journal relies on for survival; and what happens when a publisher alienates the community that constitutes the life blood (and social capital) of a journal. Taylor and Francis have a previous history here, having dismissed the editor of the International Journal of Occupational and Environmental Health (“Publisher’s intervention on journal sparks ‘grave concerns”, News, 18 May 2017).

As the BRI editorial team, we are very exercised about what we see as Taylor & Francis’ cavalier behaviour, not just because of the dismissal of BRI’s editor-in-chief but subsequently through its disregard of the journal’s editorial board as the custodians of the integrity and reputation of BRI. One governance issue of particular concern is the lack of transparency and accountability. In dismissing BRI’s editor, the publisher has failed to consult with the communities this journal serves, especially with its editorial board and associate editors.  The publisher continues to fail to listen to the representations that were made to them since. We think these actions represent poor governance within Taylor and Francis and also violate its own corporate principles. We do not argue that diversity is not an important issue, but we reject the cavalier manner of the process and the publisher’s treatment of the editor, the journal’s gender balanced editorial team and its diverse editorial board when making new changes.

What evidence supports the publisher’s assertion that the “rotation” of editors leads to improved outcomes?  And is the imposition of fixed timeframes for editors the most appropriate method to achieve new voices and new networks as it claims? An ethical practice would be one that evaluates who benefits and who is damaged by a particular decision. But there has been no process to evaluate the publisher’s unilaterally imposed new policy or how it proposes to achieve this diversity.

An online petition “Save BRI’s Editor” has 873 signatories objecting to Taylor & Francis’ decision. Taylor and Francis was presented with the petition but has ignored the community that it purports to serve.

Richard Lorch, editor in chief

Raymond J. Cole, associate editor

Niklaus Kohler, associate editor

Faye Wade, associate editor

Sofie Pelsmakers, social media editor

(The last four signatories have resigned in protest)


An open letter from the BRI Editor to Informa / Taylor and Francis and BRI’s readers and authors

Dear Stephen Carter, Leon Heward-Mills and Richard Delahunty,

The decision by Taylor and Francis (T&F) to terminate my contract as Editor in Chief of Building Research & Information (BRI) is based solely on one criterion: the length of time in post.  As T&F’s global publishing head of journals, Mr Heward-Mills stated this is based on a desire to bring in “new voices” – but he has failed to define what this means or how this is beneficial.  It is overly simplistic to suggest this can only be done by the removal of the Editor.  Evidence has been provided to show how we actively already achieve this for BRI in terms of gender, geography, career stage and areas of expertise.  We achieve this by an active programme of adding new people – their voices and their insights.  These new voices contribute to our diversity and vitality at many levels: particularly the associate editors and editorial board members who have a fundamental role in the decision processes, but also our guest editors, reviewers and authors.

It is bizarre that you emphasize new voices but you ignore the existing voices of our community. Many authors, readers and reviewers have raised their voices to protest Informa’s decision. First this occurred in many private letters from individuals as well as the organisations that endorse the journal. Following a lack of meaningful response from T&F, the Editorial Team and Board detailed their queries and concerns in two open letters. The first responded to T&F’s decision to terminate my contract, whilst the second responded to their request for a meeting and continued oversight of the Board’s concerns. Indeed, 48 people (associate editors and editorial board members) have resigned en masse. In their second letter, they stated:

 ” … we find the tone and content of your [Leon Heward-Mills’] response disingenuous and dismissive of our primary concerns.”

Taylor and Francis and its parent company Informa plc have failed to answer questions raised by the journal’s editorial board.

More broadly, objections have been raised via social media, and over 870 people (at the time of writing) from our community have signed a petition objecting to T&F’s decision and ask that it is rescinded. Their reasons (based on the comments they provided) fall broadly into several categories:

  • it is not in the journal’s and the community’s interest
  • the decision-making process was flawed – there was no consultation, no transparency, no underpinning evidence, no consideration of other factors and it violates the parent company’s stated principles
  • the high quality of leadership and service that I provide is unique and highly valued in our field.
  • it is an ‘unjust’ way to treat a successful editor
  • it represents poor management of succession planning
  • it will damage the reputation of Informa / Taylor and Francis

Informa / T&F has completely disregarded the voices of the community it purports to serve. It is clear that widespread discontent exists over the Informa / T&F decision to terminate my contract.

At a more fundamental level, there are serious misgivings about the poor governance and management processes involving how this decision was made:

  • Violations of Informa’s stated values and principles:
    • Striving for “excellence in all we do.” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 4)
    • “We will work in a fair and ethical way within the markets in which we operate and will seek to maintain a position of respect, reliability and integrity.” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 8)
    • “We incentivise, reward and recognise people solely on their ability to perform and excel at their role.”  (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 4)
    • “Handling relationships ethically, lawfully and with integrity doesn’t stop at our colleagues: we expect this of anyone who works with or on behalf of Informa” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 3)
    • “Our colleagues are how we will be successful and we can support them through training, wellbeing and the provision of opportunity. This will help with the retention, recruitment and support the delivery of our growth ambitions.”        (Informa plc, Sustainability Report, 2016, p 7)
    • “We making hiring and role progression decisions based solely on relevant qualifications and merit…” (Informa plc, Code of Conduct, p. 5)


  • There is no evidence underpinning this practice. Should T&F work to industry “norms” or strive for excellence? NB: only one publisher espouses a maximum 15-year tenure for editors – but this publisher makes exceptions for its excellent editors (one is in post for 23+ years). Another rival publisher has an excellent editor in post for 33 years.
  • No evaluation of this practice – how does it foster excellence?
  • No ethical evaluation of how this practice affects the particular journal and its stakeholders
  • Inconsistent application by T&F management:
    • Lack of communication about this practice to editors and within T&F
    • Practice arbitrarily applied within T&F (some editors are in post for 25 years, others 21 years, etc)
  • No clear, stated process to account for specific context. How does T&F differentiate between a poetry and physics journal?
  • Single criterion decision process – other important criteria marginalised
  • No prior consultation with Editorial Board and other key stakeholders (the many professional and research organisations that endorse BRI)
  • No meaningful engagement with the feedback provided by the Editorial Board – they have provided evidence to show “new voices” are actively involved in the journal

These grave concerns raise doubts in the community of authors and readers about the publisher’s stewardship of this journal. Success in academic publishing depends upon the creation of trust and integrity, which have now been eroded hugely by Informa / Taylor and Francis. The arrogant disregard of the representations from our research community constitutes a significant breach in your stewardship.


Richard Lorch, RIBA

Editor in Chief, Building Research & Information

Response: Second open letter from BRI EDITORIAL TEAM & BOARD MEMBERS to Taylor & Francis

The discussion continues between the Editorial Team and Board Members of Building Research & Information (BRI) and the publishers Taylor & Francis (T&F). In response to T&F’s decision to terminate the contract of the Editor-in-Chief, Richard Lorch, the Editorial Team and Board Members wrote an open letter detailing their grave concerns and reasons for their resignation. T&F have responded to this, and the Board have subsequently written an open reply. Both of these documents are copied in full below. 

Open letter from BRI Editorial Team and Board Members to Taylor & Francis. Sent Thursday 1st March 2018

Dear Mr Heward-Mills

Thank you for your email of February 22nd 2018. We agree that there is scope for all parties to resume working together, but only if our primary concern that Richard Lorch remains as editor of Building Research and Information is addressed. 

We have previously articulated numerous benefits that Taylor & Francis gains by having Richard in this role as well as the potential damage to the journal should it not be the case.   With support through the petition for retaining Richard Lorch by the larger international academic and research community already nearly 800 signatures, the serious concerns for his dismissal clearly extend well beyond the Editorial Team and Board members.

We appreciate that you continue to “fully recognise Richard’s contribution as an editor-in-chief of more than twenty years, his on-going standing in the field, and the networks he has built.”  However, we find the tone and content of your response disingenuous and dismissive of our primary concerns. In your opening statement you state that you “have read and listened to all of them”, yet the evidence does not support this claim. The earlier form letter you sent in response to editorial board members’ individual letters of concern merely confirmed the fait accompli and the letter to you from the BRI Editorial team on January 15th went unanswered.

 There has been no evidence provided about why “rotation” is needed, why a particular fixed length of time is necessary and why Taylor & Francis only works to “the norm”. The evidence and assessments we presented to you – from many individuals and the collective Editorial Board – has been ignored. The decision-making process has not been transparent or justified and certainly not indicative of your willingness or interest in listening to our concerns or advice. 

We would consider having representatives from the board meet with you to discuss this concern, and to help find an independent moderator for this meeting. However, before this meeting we need to be clear that the option of Richard remaining as Editor-in-Chief beyond the end of 2018 is on the table. Since we have strenuously defended this position, we are not able to meet to discuss a decision that has already been made unilaterally by the publisher or participate in a selection process for a new editor-in-chief.

We would be willing to meet if constructive progress is made during a meeting between Richard and the publishers to reconsider the termination of his contract. As a positive outcome for all parties, we again put forward a compromise solution of a transition period to at least the end of 2020 with Richard remaining as editor under the same conditions as before.   

Yours sincerely,    

Dr Wim Bakens, CIB, Netherlands

Professor Gail Brager, University of California, Berkeley, USA

Dr. Sarah Burch , University of Waterloo, Canada

Professor Edwin Chan, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

Professor Raymond J Cole, University of British Columbia, Canada

Professor Ian Cooper, Eclipse Research Consults, UK

Dr Robert Crawford, University of Melbourne, Australia

Dr Sarah Darby, University of Oxford, UK

Professor Richard de Dear, University of Sydney, Australia

Dr Michael Donn, Victoria University Wellington, New Zealand

Dr Chrisna du Plessis, University of Pretoria, South Africa

Professor Kirsten Gram-Hanssen, Danish Building Research Institute, Aalborg University, Denmark

Dr Jessica Granderson, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories, USA

Professor Guillaume Habert, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

Dr Kathryn Janda, University College London, UK

Professor Charles Kibert, University of Florida, USA

Professor Niklaus Kohler, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

Mr Adrian Leaman, Usable Buildings Trust, UK

Dr Mark D Levine, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, USA

Professor Kevin Lomas, Loughborough University, UK

Professor Robert Lowe, University College London, UK

Professor Thomas Lützkendorf, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany

Dr Tove Malmqvist, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden

Professor Daniel Mueller, NTNU, Norway

Professor Shuzo Murakami, Institute for Building Environment and Energy Conservation, Japan

Mr Robin Nicholson CBE, Cullinan Studio, UK

Dr Sarah Outcault, University of California, Davis, USA

Dr Wei Pan, University of Hong Kong, China

Dr Sofie Pelsmakers, Aarhus School of Architecture, Denmark

Professor Bruno Peuportier, Mines ParisTech, France

Professor Gary Pivo, University of Arizona, USA

Mr Rajan Rawal, CEPT University, India

Professor Christoph Reinhart, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

Professor John Robinson, University of Toronto, Canada

Dr Serge Salat, Urban Morphology Institute, France

Professor Kaixun Sha, Shandong Jianzhu University, China

Professor Geoffrey Qiping Shen, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, China

Professor Alan Short, University of Cambridge, UK

Professor  Elizabeth Shove, University of Lancaster, UK

Professor  Stefan Siedentop, Research Institute for Regional and Urban Development (ILS), Germany 

Professor Philip Steadman, University College London, UK

Professor Fionn Stevenson, University of Sheffield, UK

Dr Yolande Strengers, RMIT University, Australia

Professor Henk Visscher, Technical University Delft, The Netherlands

Dr Faye Wade, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Professor Jennifer Whyte, Imperial College London, UK

Professor Harold Wilhite, University of Oslo, Norway

Professor Yi Jiang, Tsinghua University, China


Letter from Taylor & Francis to BRI Editorial Team and Board Members. Sent Thursday 22nd February 2018

Dear Building Research and Information editorial team and board,

Thank you for your open letter and your on-going messages of support and advocacy for Richard, which we have read and listened to since first raising transitioning the Building Research and Information leadership role to a fixed-term, rotating editor-in-chief position.

We would like to start by saying we very much endorse everything you have said regarding Richard’s work. As we have said in various correspondence and in our face-to-face meetings, we fully recognise Richard’s contribution as an editor-in-chief of more than twenty years, his on-going standing in the field, and the networks he has built.

As discussed with Richard, the practice of fixed-term, rotating journal leadership roles is a growing norm for scholarly journals. Having a time limit on these roles (i.e. journal editor and editor-in-chief) opens up opportunities for a wider variety of people to apply, who may not be able to commit to an open-ended position. However, we also recognise and acknowledge the upset this is causing the Building Research and Information editorial team and board.

We have been in contact with you via email to invite you to a meeting with the Taylor & Francis team, where we can fully discuss this decision, answer all your questions, and Richard’s on-going involvement on Building Research and Information (including the key Emeritus Editor role offered to him).

We look forward to hearing from you in the next two weeks and to picking up this discussion in person.

Best wishes,

Taylor & Francis